Architecture

Dell Xps 15 Vs Surface Laptop 3, Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 15 Vs Dell Xps 15 9500

Microsoft’s Surface Laptops have been some of the more popular ultrabooks of the last few years. With the 3rd generation, Microsoft added a full-size 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 alongside the traditional 13.5-inch variant, and I wanted to discuss its overall value in today’s market, considering the multiple other options out there.

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That’s going to be a two-section article. In this first part, we’ll pitch the Surface Laptop 3 15 against the higher-tier performance ultraportables available as of late-2019: the Apple MacBook Pro 15, the Dell XPS 15 7590 and Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Extreme 2nd gen and P1 2nd gen.

The second part will cover other ultraportable 15-inch notebooks, like the Asus ZenBook 15, the MSI Prestige 15, the LG Gram 15 or the Samsung Notebook 7 Force.

What the Surface Laptop 3 has for itself is the excellent build quality and attention to detail, the clicky and fast keyboard and especially the awesome 3:2 high-resolution touchscreen. On the other hand, the 15-inch model is powered by a mobile AMD APU, with Intel IceLake versions only available for Enterprise buyers, and the AMD Picasso hardware is hardly competitive these days. Paired with slow Wireless, limited IO and the hefty price-tags, all these could be enough reasons to look elsewhere.

We’ll talk about these aspects down below, where we’ll also touch on all the other important traits of the Laptop 3 15 and how its fares against those alternatives from Apple, Dell, and Lenovo.

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Hear me out. The Surface is based on a Zen+ Picasso APU, with a quad-core processor and integrated Radeon Vega graphics. Our configuration gets the lower-tier Ryzen 5 APU, while the higher-tier Ryzen 7 is also available, but for a whopping $2100 (with more RAM and storage). None of these is a match for the six-core processors inside the other options and their dedicated graphics chips.

Of course, as far as gaming goes, even the GTX 1650 Max-Q options are fairly limited and you’ll find even better value with GTX 1660Ti/RTX 2060 gaming ultraportables like the Asus ROG Zephyrus M, Razer Blade 15 or the Acer Predator Triton.

Performance aside, the Surface Laptop 3 loses on two other fronts. Upgradeability is one of them, with the only upgradeable component being the storage, but you’ll have to source a hardly available M.2 2230 drive for upgrades. The XPS and ThinkPads use standard RAM and M.2 2280 storage, so they are much easier to upgrade. As for the MacBook, well, Apple switched over to soldered RAM and storage, so even the Surface beats it at this game.

Wireless performance is the other potential culprit of the Surface Laptop 3. Most of these laptops get Intel Wifi 5 2×2 implementations, but the Surface trails all the others in terms of range and speeds. That’s not something you’ll normally notice with daily use, especially if you have a strong Internet connection in your room or office. You will, however, if you have to constantly transfer data over wireless or if you have to make due with dodgier signal strength.

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Finally, there are a few other aspects where the Surface Laptop is OK, but unremarkable. Audio is among them, with loud and average-quality speakers firing from underneath the keyboard. Fan-noise is another. The laptop stays quiet with daily use, but the fans can ramp-up to 42-44 dB at head-level with more demanding loads. In all fairness, performance laptops tend to get noisier under load, but they also have to cool much more powerful hardware.

There’s also a camera at the top of the screen, but it’s 720p, so mediocre, just like on most other laptops. It does integrate IR support for Windows Hello.

Battery life

The Surface Laptop 3 15 gets by far the smallest battery out of these laptops, and despite the fact that it’s built on a lower-performance platform, that’s not enough to compensate for it.

You can blame it on the larger screen and even on the AMD platform not scaling down as well as Intel’s options, but at the end of the day, the small battery is the main reason why this laptop will only last for 4-5 hours of daily use and 6-8 hours of video. That’s not that bad, but you’ll have to carry its charger around. At least the charger is compact and light, but the battery still needs around 2 hours to fill up.

You’ll actually get longer battery life with any of the other options in this selection, as the Intel Core H hardware scales down fairly well with basic chores. The XPS lasts longer than the Thinkpads, thanks to its big 97Wh battery, which compensates for its slightly higher weight. The MacBook Pro comes at the top though, with its combination of a large battery and efficient hardware and software integration.

All these laptops charge via USB-C and some include various types of quick-charging. They do come with larger and heavier power-banks, though, required to support the more powerful hardware in demanding chores.

Final thoughts

All these laptops are expensive and can get even more expensive when specced up, so I’d advise you to carefully consider your decision. I’d primarily base it on what I’d need from my laptop.

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If it’s all-day productivity for mundane tasks, the Surface Laptop 3 15 could be a good option. The screen, the keyboard, and the construction are top-notch, but I’m personally not convinced the performance, battery life, wireless or the other small lacks are really worth the premium price-tag. Don’t forget that there are other 15-inch ultraportables that also compete in this all-rounder category, and we’ll touch on them in the second part of our article.

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